Friday 19 January 2007

Trichy - temples

I felt we had to have a break yesterday, rather than risk temple-itis! This morning we felt strong enough to tackle the Ranganathaswamy Temple, in Srirangam, about six km out of Trichy. In case you think that when in Tamil Nadu these lengthy names roll easily off the tongue, they don't. And you may also have noticed that I refer to Trichy (which I can remember) rather than its other name, Tiruchirapali.

Anyhow, this temple complex is another huge one, built over several centuries starting in the fifth, but principally the 14th. As we walked through the crowded streets we could see the now familiar sight of gopuras, the high entrance gates, covered on what Claire and I now enjoy calling "Disneyland accretions" or just "accretions".

In this case there are rather a lot of gopuras, as the complex consists of seven courtyards, one within another, each one containing several temples and other buildings such as mandapas - the open halls filled with columns. The first three layers were essentially a town within the temple walls, bustling with life, as usual, and very much geared towards pilgrims, with stalls selling food and religious artefacts, and what we think were signs for cheap lodgings.

We knew we had arrived at the temple proper when we saw a sign, in English too, telling us to leave our shoes in a little booth covered in pigeonholes with shoes. At first when we did this we were a bit anxious we would not be reunited with our shows, but we now have more confidence in the complex systems of storing, plus the feel of honesty here. Just as well, as I have come to India with just the one pair of sandals (which are large, ugly and extremely comfortable - another good buy from Blacks Camping).

As we entered the next courtyard we came across an extraordinary sight: the centre of the entrance hall was filled with rows of men counting huge trays of money, presumably the collections from all the temples, as priests seemed to be surveying the scene. Then a new box of money arrived and was put into a giant sieve, held by several men. They rattled it vigorously for several minutes until all the coins had fallen through, leaving just the notes. During our walk through the temples we heard a louder mechanical noise and on our way out we saw that there was also a larger mechanical machine which rattled huge amounts of coins on a tray with several layers of holes of different sizes, sorting the different sized coins into different containers. The mind boggles at how many single rupees are collected in a day.

Most of the temples are not open to non Hindus, but we were able to wander through several, with yet more examples of the square-based Chola columns covered with carvings. Some of these appear to be late CHola, about the 14th century; the carving is more sophisticated, though very worn, and I noticed that some of the columns were round, or rather multi-facetted polygons.

The innermost temple, in the seventh courtyard is the most holy, and closed to non-Hindus. It used to be closed also to lower caste Hindus. One of the signs outside said in English "No entry for lunghis" (the long, wrap-around garments for men). Since we watched men wearing lunghis go inside, I assume that there was no equivalent sign in Tamil. Unlike most of the temples we have seen so far, this one is dedicated to Vishnu, not Shiva.

I've noticed that this entry has not registered my final remarks, that Claire
and I had spent an 'interesting' time at the railway station, being shunted
between the reservations and ticket offices, only to discover that all trains to
Madurai are full for the next two days. Our last decision of the day was to take
a three-hour bus trip in the morning. Gulp.

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